Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Favourite Room

Posts about working spaces and desks got me thinking about how important it is to have a comfortable room in which to work.In Mansfield Park there is a description of Fanny Price’s favourite room.
The aspect was so favourable that even without a fire it was habitable in many an early spring and late autumn morning to such a willing mind as Fanny’s; and while there was a gleam of sunshine she hoped not to be driven from it entirely, even when winter came. The comfort of it in her hours of leisure was extreme. She could go there after anything unpleasant below, and find immediate consolation in some pursuit, or some train of thought at hand. Her plants, her books— of which she had been a collector from the first hour of her commanding a shilling—her writing–desk, and her works of charity and ingenuity, were all within her reach; or if indisposed for employment, if nothing but musing would do, she could scarcely see an object in that room which had not an interesting remembrance connected with it. Everything was a friend, or bore her thoughts to a friend;….. The room was most dear to her, and she would not have changed its furniture for the handsomest in the house…
I wonder if Jane Austen herself felt similarly about her own special room. Cassandra and Jane shared a bedroom so that they could enjoy the comforts of a separate dressing room, a place to entertain their friends or take their leisure at Steventon Rectory.

Jane’s neice Anna Lefroy wrote, ‘I remember the common-looking
carpet with its chocolate ground, and painted press with shelves above
for books, and Jane’s piano, and an oval looking-glass that hung between
the windows; but the charm of the room with its scanty furniture and
cheaply painted walls must have been, for those old enough to understand
it, the flow of native wit, with all the fun and nonsense of a large and
clever family.’
Perhaps Cassandra kept her drawing materials here and it is probable that in this room Jane composed ‘Elinor and Marianne’, later to become ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘First Impressions’, which was the first draft of what was to become ‘Pride and Prejudice’. Jane’s father gave her a handsome writing desk on which to write. I wonder if Jane derived the same pleasure as Fanny by escaping upstairs to her room to write?

The painting at the top of the page is of Cassandra and Jane. I based this painting on two silhouettes said to be of the sisters.

Jane Odiwe Jane Austen Sequels Blogspot

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Miss Austen Regrets

I wasn't sure what I was going to make of Miss Austen Regrets, which has just been broadcast in the UK, having been disappointed by biopics of Austen's life in the past, but Miss Austen Regrets was a film to savour.

Olivia Williams was brilliant as Jane Austen, portraying her as an intelligent, witty woman with a clear view on her world, a portrayal which owed as much to the scriptwriter, Gwyneth Hughes, as the actress, of course. Together they brought a realistic version of Austen to life.

According to The Times, "Hughes insists that hers rather than the soft-focus, romantic heroine imagined by her readers is the truer portrait".

I think that most of Austen's readers can tell from her books that there wasn't anything soft focus about her. Some of her wit is savage, all of it is acute. No one escapes, not clergymen nor handsome young men nor elderly women nor the rich and titled. Everyone falls under her brilliant, satirical spotlight.

“To this day, it’s difficult for the cleverest girl in the room to pull a boyfriend and I think that explains Jane’s real problem: she was just too clever and too challenging," says Hughes.
I've always thought that this portait of her displays this idea perfectly. I can just imagine her saying, "Bored now." Which begs the question, how do you entertain the cleverest woman in the room?

Perhaps the only way to do it is to hand her a pen and a piece of paper.

Amanda Grange

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Bittersweet Proposal

My latest Regency romance, A Bittersweet Proposal, will be published by Robert Hale in June. Marc Rothwell was quite content with his life the way it was and had no wish to become the new Earl of Bracknell, a position which ought to have been his cousin's by rights and for whose death Marc feels responsible. Perhaps that's why, when we first make Marc's acquaintance we find that he has already earned himself a reputation for being taciturn. Here's a little taster.

A collective groan echoed round the card table as Marcus Rothwell laid calim to yet another winning hand.
'By all that's holy, Marc, you have the very luck of the devil!' complained Giles Merrow, throwing down his cards with an amiable grin that belied his malcontent.
An uneasy silence ensued as all eyes turned towards Marc: not just to gauge his reaction to an extraordinarily large win - brought about by daring or, some might argue, reckless play - but to his friend's taunt as well. No one anticipated that his lordship would display the least sign of pleasure at the turn events had taken and indeed were not to be disappointed in that respect. Few people had ever known the new Earl of Bracknell to go to the trouble of revealing an agreeable visage: many privately doubting that he possessed one, even if they did not have the courage to actually speculate upon the matter in the earl's hearing. A formidable Corinthian with a reputation that, even allowing for exaggeration, bordered on the legendary, no one wished to make such a powerful and dangerous enemy. Referring to the darker side of his character, even in jest, was not for the fainthearted.
'Luck had little to do with it, Giles,' responded Marc smoothly, rising from the table and scooping up a handful of banknotes, interspersed with a healthy smattering of vowels. 'Fortune has a tendency to favour the brave. Gentlemen, I bid you adieu.'
Giles collected his own, more modest, winnings and followed his friend from the room, accepting his outer garments from the porter at the door to Brook's Club.
'Where are we going?' asked Giles, donning his hat and striding along at Marc's side.
'I do not know about you, but I am for Lady Charington's ball.'
'Good God, whatever for?'
'To dance, of course.'
'Yes, I had ascertained that much, and I suppose now that you are no longer in full mourning for your uncle there is no reason why you shouldn't do so.' Giles appeared perplexed. 'But, Marc, why ever would you wish to?'
'Because the Earl of Bracknell is in need of a wife: or so my aunt would have it.'
'Yea gods, I wouldn't be you, Marc, not for all your fortune. But if you are seriously contemplating matrimony would you not do better to postpone matters for a few months more? The season is almost at an end and all this year's chits that are worth looking at, or who have dowries that are up to scratch, must already have been snapped up.'
Marc appeared perfectly unruffled at the prospect of picking over the season's wallflowers. 'I have no use for a handsome wife,' he responded indifferently. 'Such a creature would most likely spend all her time preening herself, waste my money on fripperies and require pretty words from me to keep her faithful. I have no need to add to my fortune through matrimony either. All I require is a lady of good breeding and refined manners: preferably one not given to giggling or fits of the vapours, and one in possession of a modicum of common sense: if one such exists, which I grant you is asking a lot. Most importantly, though, my choice will be based on the likelihood of the lady in question being able to bear my children without creating an almighty fuss over the matter. Presumably there are still one or two hardy specimens of that ilk not spoken for?'
'I dare say,' agreed Giles equitably. 'But does not the countess favour Miss Gibbons as your consort?'
'Which is precisely why I do not intend to spare that particular lady the time of day,' said Marc, his already ferocious expression darking further at the mention of his interfering aunt.
'Perhaps an older lady might better suit your purpose, then?' suggested Giles helpfully; keen to coax his friend back into a more congenial frame of mind. 'One who has been out for several seasons but who has not taken.'
'Good point! If she considers that she is being passed over then she will likely be more receptive to my proposition and save me the tedium of an overlong courtship.' Marc inclined his head. 'Thank you, Giles; that is an excellent suggestion. All ladies, in my experience, dread the prospect of being left on the shelf. In any event, I have yet to meet one who is averse to the idea of matrimony.'

This conversation takes them to Lady Charington's residence. Will Marc really set about finding a wife in such a cold and calculating manner and, if so, will she be in that ballroom? Find out by ordering a copy of A Bittersweet Proposal from your local library.

Wendy Soliman

Thursday, April 24, 2008


I have just received author's copies of my second Linford Romance, A Country Mouse; this came out last year with My Weekly Pocket Books with the title, A Journey To Love. I have no idea why the title was changed and was relieved that Linford Romance agreed to use the original.
I love the cover, so much better than the first one. I think having a great cover does influence a reader in the library to pick it up. What do you think?

This looks really interesting -- and even better, it's free! I shall be going, and so will others from this group. Maybe we'll see you there?

Pleasures and Pursuits: Regency Evening

Day Dress, 1819-20. Museum no. T.55-1934
Friday 13 June 2008
Throughout the V&A
Free (except talk £8.00, concessions available)
An evening of Regency period dance and music, live duelling, and parlour games. Test your knowledge in the Jane Austen Quiz, and listen to the renowned historian and broadcaster Dan Cruickshank discuss the delights and dangers of Regency London.

Many thanks to the British Fencing Association, The Royal Armouries and Leon Paul.

18.30 - 19.15, 19.30 - 20.15, 20.30 - 21.15, Raphael Gallery
Regency dance and music. Find a partner, learn the steps and join the dance. (Pick up a dance card for one session)

18.30 - 21.30, Norfolk House Music Room
Parlour games
Play Hazard, Loo and Teetotum with our Regency Master of Ceremonies

18.30 - 19.00, 19.30 - 20.00, 20.30 - 21.00, Meet in the Grand Entrance
Regency Tours
Wenches, cads, society ladies and gentlemen will lead tours throughout the British galleries

19.00 - 19.30, John Madejski Garden
Fencers from the Royal Armouries demonstrate and narrate a scripted Regency duel

Three presentation swords (details of hilts), 1798-99, 1813-14 & 1781-82. Museum nos. M.39:1-1960, 274:1-1869, M.50-1963 (click image for larger version)
19.50 - 20.20, John Madejski Garden
The 'Sherridan Duel'
Fencers from the Royal Armouries re-enact a famous Regency duel

19.00 - 20.00, Lecture Theatre
Dan Cruickshank - Life in Regency London
A leading expert on architecture and historic buildings and a regular presenter on the BBC, Dan Cruickshank is best known for his popular series Britain's Best Buildings. He has published extensively on many aspects of Georgian and Regency history. This talk reviews the delights and dangers of living in Regency London.
£8, concessions available

19.30 - 21.30, John Madejski Garden
Fencing Tournament with the British Fencing Association. Two teams will fence against each other, battling to be the winning team

20.30 - 21.15, V&A Restaurant
Jane Austen Quiz
Enter the quiz to be crowned a Jane Austen aficionado
(up to 6 people per group)

Don't forget to borrow my books from your local library, UK only unfortunately, and if my latest, A Debt of Honour, isn't on the shelves ask them to get it for you. You can buy it from at a reduced price and postage free, and also from Amazon and other online retailers and good bookshops. Both The Return of Lord Rivenhall, A Country Mouse, and A Debt of Honour, can also be downloaded from
Fenella Miller

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Research books - part 1 of an occasional series

One of the best parts of writing Regency novels is the research. Romantics and Revolutionaries: Regency Portraits from the National Portrait Gallery London is a fascinating book.

Not only does it have full page reproductions of portraits of all the notable figures of the Regency, but it has useful and interesting biographical material about the sitters as well.

With women ranging from Lady Hamilton to Hannah More and men ranging from Byron to Wellington, it's a reminder of how varied life was in the Regency period.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Desks and books

Jane's post about untidy desks struck a chord with me as my desk is always in a terrible state. There are piles of reference books, which topple over occasionally; piles of print outs of my current work in progress; assorted pens, pencils, markers, paper clips and other similar items; as well as a cup of tea and biscuits.

When the Manchester Evening News were writing an article about me I knew they were going to send a photographer round and so I tidied my desk ruthlessly, leaving only my computer on the desk. When the photographer arrived and saw my desk he was dismayed.

'It's too tidy,' he said.

It turned out they like to photograph authors at their desks because they like the mess and chaos, so I had to litter my lovely tidy desk with anything I could get my hands on - which wasn't too difficult, as I'd run out of time when tidying up and so I'd simply lifted the last few piles of clutter into a handy cupboard!

Out it came, the photographer got his shots, and I learned an important lesson: never tidy your desk for the press!

Amanda Grange

Friday, April 18, 2008

Good News and Progress

I'm at that stage in my current book - Wild Justice- where it's threequarters finished and I'm galloping down the home stretch. That part is really exciting. But though I want to reach the end and for the crises to be resolved, when I get there I have to say goodbye to characters I've lived with and cared about for almost a year. That will be really hard. It's also the reason that as soon as I've cleared out my office, which looks like a cross between a burglary and an explosion, and sorted out the research material I'll need, I shall start the next book.

Meanwhile, I'm delighted to announce that Magna Large Print have offered for Devil's Prize and this edition should be available in the autumn.

Some additional and really pleasing news is that Chivers and Thorndike have just taken the last two of my 14 Mills & Boon novels written under the name of Dana James for Large Print here and in the US. As these were written in the 1980s and early 90s, to have them re-issued for a new readership is a great thrill. As I don't yet have a cover for the large print edition of Devil's Prize to show you, I thought you might like to see one of the LP Dana James jackets.

Jane Jackson

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Not Quite Gardener's World - getting distracted amongst the Brussel Sprouts

I was checking the proofs for A Mistletoe Masquerade, my contribution to the Mills & Boon Christmas anthology for 2008, yesterday and was reminded of my search for the Regency Brussel Sprout.

Did they grow them, did they like them? That was the question. There was no sign of them in Thomas Mawe's Every Man His Own Gardener. My copy is the 14th edition - 1794 - and I didn't think veg growing would have changed that much in twenty years. Then I thought of checking in Grandfather's copy of The Cottage Gardeners Dictionary (1852, but then Grandpa was not given to the new-fangled and this had probably been his grandfather's copy.) And there it was - Brussels Borecole or Sprouts. Back to Mawe and sure enough - both Brown and Green Borecole "...greatly esteemed, for their being so hardy as to resist the severest cold; and they eat extremely sweet, but especially the sprouts which arise from the sides of the stalks."

I should have gone back to my proofs at that point, having checked the spelling and made sure the gardener's boy was doing the right thing with them, but any distraction is welcome when there are proofs to be read. What about recipes? I have four original cookery books for the early 19th century and not one has anything for Brussels Sprouts, Borecole or Cole. Perhaps the traditional method of boiling them until dead dates back to then, or perhaps it was just too simple to require spelling out.

OK, definitely time to get back to the proofs... But then I found myself looking for images of Regency gardens. While the professional gardeners were toiling in the vegetable garden it seems the gentry were indulging in a little recreational gardening themselves. I collect Regency bat-printed china (nothing to do with flying mammals, it has black and white printed images created by pressing a specially coated 'bat' onto the cup or plate) and many of those feature garden scenes.

The handsome gent presenting his lady with a rose isn't, when you look at it carefully, doing anything so romantic. What he is holding is a cutting - no wonder she looks decidedly underwhelmed.

And even ladies were gardening. How much they actually did outside, other than dead heading the roses, I'm not sure, but here is an earnest young woman tending her pot plants. Her outfit, illustrated in Ackermann's Repository (September 1820) is apparently "Cottage Dress" - a nice simple affair for getting amongst the weeds in!
And now, definitely time to get back to those proofs!

Louise Allen


Last weekend I spent a very enjoyable time in York attending the Historical Novel Society Conference. The conference was held at the National Rail Museum, so our breakout area had awonderful view of the museum exhibits: steam and diesel locomotives, huge monsters in iron and steel – a fitting backdrop for Andrew Martin, author of a series of books featuring murder and mysteries based around the Edwardian railways.

As well as Andrew, we had writers as diverse as Susannah Dunn (Queen of Subtleties - Elizabethan), Jude Morgan (An Accomplished Woman - Regency) and Elizabeth Chadwick (The Greatest Knight - Medieval), plus two discussion panels. I took part in a discussion with Jude Morgan and Mary Sharratt on whether women have been written out of history and how we should be redressing the balance (the conclusion was that we are now doing just that, with more and more novels placing women centre stage). There was also a discussion on the future of historical fiction (conclusion there – that no one can predict what is going to happen!)

It was a wonderful day and I met many old friends and made many new ones – always a pleasure at such conferences.

We followed up on Sunday morning with a guided walk around the city. Despite the rain we had a wonderful time looking at the old Roman walls, the remains of a Norman house and the medieval fortifications and buildings that abound in York – we didn’t even get to the Regency period! It was a fascinating tour and has convinced me that a much longer stay in York is necessary to explore its wonderful history. I am already planning my trip!

Melinda Hammond (Sarah Mallory)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The challenge of writing a series

Writing a series such as the Loveday novels can be exhilarating and also daunting. When I was given a contract for books 10 and 11 in the series by Headline I had no problem coming up with the main theme of the novels. There were still issues to resolve within the family and adventures in history I wanted to place them in. I also wanted to know what would happen next.

It was not until I began to plot book 10 and was researching not only new plotlines but the history and changes brought about by historical events in Cornwall (which is the main setting) England, London and Paris, that I had something of a shock to discover that so far I had written over 1,250,000 words about the family. The challenge is not only to keep the plot fresh and also the motivation of the characters but neither must the settings or the manner of their conflict become repetitious or they will lose their appeal. Fortunately Cornwall is such an atmospheric place where the moors and coves change dramatically with the seasons and the weather that these are tools to ring the changes.

Fortunately human nature makes us all many facetted as our ideals and emotions change over the years. Since the novels have now covered fifteen years in time the central characters have changed and developed through their experiences and both their good and darker sides have been allowed to emerge. Historical events were fast changing and turbulent starting with the French Revolution and leading into the Napoleonic wars. Smuggling, privateering, gambling hells, highwayway robbery, hedonism and direst poverty are but a few of the diverse situations found themselves in.

As each book ends with a tense and dramatic scene this has so far been the springboard for changes that take place within the family structure and adventures to come. Research is not only knowing your subject well but peeling back the superficial layers to reveal the hidden depths within.

Kate Tremayne

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Eloping with Mr Wickham

In Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, we learn that Lydia Bennet runs away with Mr Wickham. I always wondered how Mr Wickham and Lydia finally came to be together in Brighton and how he persuaded her that it was a good idea to elope. I don't want to spoil their story by revealing all, but here is an extract from a scene prior to their elopement. I used the Lydia letter that Jane Austen wrote but we see the scene through Lydia's eyes as she is writing to her friend Harriet. She is excited and so in love with her 'angel' that all she can think about is how they can be together at last.

Lydia ran to her room, retrieved her bundle and was about to go, when she was taken by the idea that she could not disappear without leaving Harriet with a hint of where she had gone. She sat down at the desk in front of the window to compose her letter. As she reached for her pen and dipped the quill in the black ink, she was overwhelmed by a desire for mirth. She tried to steady her nerves, breathing the salt tang coming in off the sea, but her laughter rose inside her to erupt into the silence of the room. The muslin at the bow window, caught by a sudden gust, snapped and flapped back, rattling the curtain rings, shaking the blinds. Lydia paused to look out through the glass at the grey clouds massing over the sea and heard the sound made by the waves as they crashed and churned; water sucking up the stones and dashing them down again on the beach below. A summer storm was brewing, but did nothing to dampen her excitement. She could hardly believe that the time to depart had arrived.

She started to write:

Dear Harriet,
You will laugh when you know where I am gone and I cannot help laughing myself at your surprise tomorrow morning, as soon as I am missed…

She hesitated as a resounding clap like a cracking whip tore across the heavens, lighting up the sky in sulphurous tones, before a roll of thunder crashed overhead. At once the rain began, blowing large, fat droplets across her missive, smudging and dissolving the ink, extinguishing the candle she had lit to provide more light against the dim evening. She stood up and lowered the window, taking in the scene below as figures dashed for cover from the tumultuous downpour. Carriages were arriving, bringing their pretty passengers to dance at the Assembly Rooms below. A girl, shivering in sheer muslin, alighted from a phaeton with her beau and was buffeted along by the wind, which whipped at her legs and threatened to snatch her bonnet. Some high-spirited young men leered enthusiastically at a trio of females who left them in no doubt of their mutual interest as they passed by. Coachmen turned up their collars, pulling down their hats and fastening close their carriage hoods against the unseasonable squall. Satin slippers were soaked through in seconds and shawls clutched tightly in an effort to stay dry, as another coach-load of ladies ran from the streaming gutters, shrieking and hopping through the puddles.

“Lord, what fun! What delights have been mine whilst here,” mused Lydia. “I will never forget my time in this pleasure haven. I could never have imagined, when I begged mama to let me go dancing with my sisters all those months ago, that my life would change so much, that I would not only be in love, but with the dearest and most handsome man in the whole world.” She felt another wave of sheer joy, mixed with the hope that her dreams were at last to be realised, and she laughed again to relieve the feelings bubbling inside.
But there was no time to stand and ponder, especially when her eye caught sight of a certain young Captain she wished to avoid running out across the road. She quickly drew back behind the curtain, returning to the desk to resume her letter.

I am going to Gretna Green, and if you cannot guess with who I shall think you a simpleton, for there is but one man in the world I love, and he is an angel, I should never be happy without him, so think it no harm to be off. You need not send them word at Longbourn of my going, if you do not like it, for it will make the surprise the greater when I write to them, and sign my name Lydia Wickham. What a good joke it will be! I can hardly write for laughing. Pray make my excuses to Pratt for not keeping my engagement and dancing with him tonight. Tell him I hope he will excuse me when he knows all, and tell him when we next meet at a ball I will dance with him with great pleasure. I shall send for my clothes when I get to Longbourn; but I wish you would tell Sally to mend a great slit in my worked muslin gown before they are packed up. Goodbye. Give my love to Colonel Forster. I hope you will drink to our good journey.

Your affectionate friend,
Lydia Bennet

Extract from Lydia Bennet's Story

Jane Odiwe Jane Austen Sequels blog

Monday, April 14, 2008

Romantic Times Convention

On Tuesday I fly across the pond for the Romantic Times Convention at Pittsburgh. On my own.

I've discovered the joys of solitary travel recently, and they are joys. Only myself to answer to, I can listen to my music, read my books, go to the shops in the airport or just sit and stare into space. And write!

For this journey, around 10 hours in all, I'm planning to plan. Plot and try to work out some book plans for the next few efforts. Such a nice thing, all that time to myself!

I'm trying to forget the airline food, the worries at the airport - will I ever see my luggage again, will I get on the wrong plane, will I miss the plane, will I get my connection at Newark - at 1 hour 40 mins I'm cutting it a bit fine. Last year it took over 2 hours to get through Customs! Ah well, that was Texas, and they like to do things slow in Texas!

Going to America makes me realise just how different we are over here. And how similar people are! There are common denominators, but because we speak the same language (arguably, lol!) we kid ourselves that we're basically the same.
But I love the differences. Absolutely love them.

Just think of those intrepid souls who travelled around the world in the Regency era! Lady Hester Stanhope, who after a life helping her uncle, Pitt the Younger, travelled abroad to the Middle East and discovered the love of her life and a world that suited her so much she never came home. On her own. I'm travelling a well-worn route, with people expecting me at the other end, but Lady Hester had none of that. And all those ambassador's wives who took their families out to strange lands. There's a great book, "Daughters of Britannia" about those intrepid ladies.

When I get there, there's RT itself. One of the biggest parties anywhere. Celebrating romance, reading it, chatting with readers and writers - it's huge fun. As well as hard work! I'm planning to go to New York afterwards for a few days, so I'll be nothing but a wet dishrag when I come home. Probably sleep for a week.

Which is a shame, because I have two books coming out, one at the end of April, the other at the beginning of May, so I really have to get out there and let people know they're here! Neither of them are historical, they're both contemporary set paranormal romances, but I am currently working on the next Triple Countess book. And the next historical is out in June, the first in a brand new trilogy set in the Georgian era.

See you when I get back! Or if you're planning to be at Pittsburgh, I'll see you there!

Lynne Connolly

Friday, April 11, 2008

Review of The Carstairs Conspiracy

As a relatively new author I find reading reviews of my books a little scary. Will people like them? What criticisms will they level at the story I've sweated blood over? Will they notice glaring errors in the research or plot? Come to that, will anyone actually want to read them?

These are the sort of questions that plague my mind every time I see a review and I often have to resort to a little Dutch courage before opening them. But when they are like the one below from the I Love Fiction Review site in respect of my latest Regency romance, The Carstairs Conspiracy, published by Robert Hale, they make it all worthwhile.

'Mystery, intrigue, romance and a naked man in bed by Chapter 2 .... what more could a woman want? (Actually, this scene in chapter 2 is very funny ..)

This book didn't disappoint, and it was a real page turner. The heroine is feisty and though young, didn't simper. She was brave and though innocent, was a real treat to read about.

The hero - well, I never thought a man called Sebastian could be attractive - but he was ... he was just what a hero should be: strong, capable and a bit of a rogue (but not to our heroine of course!).

This book, though serious in it's plot and mystery, had a wonderful amount of humour in it (I always love a bit of humour) and the last scene is so beautifully crafted, I didn't want it to end ... wonderful dialogue and sparring between the hero and heroine.

The plot hangs together beautifully, this really is a great read. It combined romance and intrigue so that I found I couldn't put it down. (Well I did read it in 2 days). Can't wait for Wendy's next book out in June ... (she's referring to A Bittersweet Proposal due to be published by Hale at the end of June). Rating 9.5/10'

Now that's what I call a positive review and I don't have a clue who wrote it, (honest!).

Wendy Soliman

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Complete Servant

I came across a fascinating book called The Complete Servant published in 1825 and written by Samuel and Sarah Adams. It was written mainly for the nouveau riche who, in the opinion of this couple, would have no idea how to set up a large house and organise their staff. The book has everything such a person could need, from how to proportion income,what wages each member of staff should be paid and how many servants you could afford.

£100 or guineas. A widow or other unmarried lady, may keep a young maid servant, at a low salary; say from 5 to 10 guineas a year.
£150 to £180. A gentleman and lady without children, may afford to keep a better servant maid, at about 10 or 12 guineas.
£500 to £600. A gentleman and lady with children. Three females and one man; viz. - a cook, housemaid and a nursery maid, or other female servant; with a livery servant, as groom and footman. A gardener occasionally.
£3000 to £4000. A gentleman and lady with children. Eight female and eight men servants; viz. - a cook, lady's maid, two housemaids, nurse, nursery maid, kitchen maid, and laundry maid; with a butler, valet, coachman, two grooms, a footman, and two gardeners.

This should give you some idea of how far money stretched in those days. 25% of this income was to be apportioned to servants, which included horses carriages and liveries.
The wages were minimal, the housekeeper received 24 guineas a year plus keep, a lady's maid 20 guineas, the nursery maid 10 guineas, upper housemaid 15 guineas, scullion 9 guineas, but as was always the case men did much better. A French cook, male, 80 guineas, Butler, 50 guineas, Coachman 28 guineas, footman 24 guineas.
When a gardener today costs £12 an hour and someone to clean costs almost as much only two income families or the wealthy can afford to employ anyone to help them in the house. Which means, in my house anyway, housework is a low priority and only gets done when I'm having visitors.
My latest book, A Debt of Honour is available from and also from Amazon both here and in America. also has this book as a download.
Fenlla Miller

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Big Mills & Boon Centenary Debate!

The Mills and Boon Centenary debate took place at the Oxford Literary Festival last week and one hundred and fifty romance readers, authors and supporters came along to enjoy a wide-ranging discussion on whether heroes and heroines had changed with the times. Favourite heroes and heroines mentioned included Anne Elliot from Persuasion and Georgette Heyer’s rakes, beaux and spirited heroines. It was generally agreed that heroes and heroines of such quality had stood the test of time and were as relevant now as they were a hundred or even two hundred years ago. The panel and audience also discussed whether Regency heroines would have been as obsessed with their weight and appearance as the Bridget Jones generation!

Other topics covered included an impromptu show of hands from the audience as to whether readers thought there were too many love scenes in books these days and whether people skipped these in order to move on with the plot! A brave few maintained that for them the love scenes were an integral part of the story and something they would never skip. There was also a lively debate on whether men could write romance from a female point of view. The evening was rounded off with a complementary glass of champagne from sponsors Mills & Boon as the authors signed copies of their books and readers were given a goody bag to take away. All in all a most entertaining event and thank you to all who came along to support it. I hope that a good time was had by all!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Sense and Sensibility

Blog readers in the US have no doubt been watching the new TV adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, which aired in the UK some time ago. Although I enjoyed David Morrissey in the role, he's not my idea of Brandon.

Colin Firth was the same age as Brandon when he played Darcy . . .

. . . and so was Sean Bean when he played Sharpe.

I think Sean Bean would have made an excellent Brandon. In fact, I think that Brandon and Sharpe would have had a lot in common. Although they came from different parts of the country and they were from different social classes they were both honourable men.

Amanda Grange

Friday, April 04, 2008

Putting One's Feet Up With a Nice Magazine...

We all do it, usually when we ought to be doing something else more exciting, like the ironing. There’s nothing quite like snatching half an hour with a magazine, whether its Heat, Vogue or the Pig Keeper’s Weekly.

But what would the fashionable lady be reading in 1807 while she sipped her chocolate? I’ve just bought some copies of La Belle Assembl√©e, or Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine and I settled down with my tea to peruse August.

The illustration is of A Fashionable Party at the Frascati, Paris. I rather suspect he has realised his companions are simply refuelling for another lengthy shopping expedition and he is going to be dragged along too.

The fashion plates are well known, but it had more than news of the latest gowns. There was a long running series of Biographical Sketches of Illustrious Ladies, this one featuring the Queen of Prussia - Handsome in her person, accomplished in her manners, but apparently fatally flawed by indiscreet dealings with Napoleon. This is followed by a tour of Hamburgh [sic] and Bremen, with special emphasis on the food …a comfortable dinner, a bottle of wine included, may be had for twenty pence English;
A Curious Account of Two Elephants which comments that mating in elephants …is now ascertained beyond the possibility of a doubt to be exactly similar to the horse – it must have removed a worry from many a fashionable lady to know that; a communication from An Old Bachelor on the servant problem; a history of French fashions and speculation on The Occupation of Departed Souls.

More familiar to the modern reader is the cookery section which after commenting that dessert is to a dinner what the sky-rockets are to fire-works, gives the recipe for Soup à la Camerani for which one requires real Neapolitan macaroni, Epping butter, Parmesan cheese, capon livers, celery, carrots, parsnips and leeks. Would the fashionable hostess worry that her butter came from the farm down the road and her macaroni from the nearest market town? Would anyone have noticed?

The poetry section is lengthy and includes such cheerful items as Maria: or a Mother’s Dirge and The Tomb of My Fathers: a Pathetic Ballad set to music (Note: to be sung Andante et Affecttuoso).

Rather more cheerful for the romantic novelist is The Cottage: to Isabella
Oh share my cottage gentle maid,
It only waits for thee,
To give a sweetness to its shade
And happiness to me.
Luxurious pride it cannot boast,
‘Tis all simplicity,
No perfumes from Arabia’s coast,
Nor glitt’ring gems thou’lt see…

The free embroidery pattern is for an Entire New Collar for a Morning Dress and the whole issue is rounded off with advertisements for various indispensable items:
Collyer’s Silk Stockings with cotton feet – comfort, ease and durability, pleasantness , economy and utility are combined.
The incomparable Vegetable Cream de Sultanes produced by J Delacroix after a variety of chemical Experiments and intense application. For 4/6d a bottle the effects of sunshine or chilling winds may be reversed.
New and Popular Vauxhall Songs available at 1/- each included The Squeeze of the Hand, The Young Gypsy has Conquered My Heart and the ever popular One Evening Sitting Garters Knitting (as sung by Mrs Bland).

Tooth whitening preparations were obviously much in demand and if all else failed one could be fitted with Faleur and De Lafon’s Improved Mineral Teeth.

And finally, what I can only assume to be the Viagra of its time:
Sir Hans Soane’s Restorative and Re-Animating Pills for those distressing Debilities which prevent, or render unhappy, the Marriage State (but cannot, with a due regard to delicacy, be mentioned in a public magazine. The afflicted could send off for a helpful pamphlet for 1/- or purchase a box of pills for 10/6d. Sadly, there were no testimonials from those re-animated.

Louise Allen

Thursday, April 03, 2008


my first novel writing as Sarah Mallory is now out in North America and as an ebook! More Than A Governess is my first Regency for Harlequin Historical and I love the cover – hope you do too.

Falling for the master of the house. Stern and unyielding, Major Damon Collingham was prepared to pay a king's ransom for someone who could stay the course as governess to his two motherless children. In her straitened circumstances, Miss Juliana Wrenn needed this post and could not allow herself to be intimidated by him - or his colorful reputation.

A devil on the battlefield and in the bedroom. Juliana knew what was said about her employer. She would not fall under his spell. But then, those harsh features could sometimes soften to something so much more attractive....

I have put an short extract below and you can find more details at

'I think it would suit very well, sir, if we can agree terms.'
'Miss Wrenn, I hardly think you are in a position to made demands….'
'Then we need discuss this no further,' she rose. 'Let me see, today is Saturday, your advertisement should be published on Monday, at the earliest. No doubt your secretary is very efficient: if he interviews the candidates quickly, I suppose it might be possible to engage a suitable person in time to travel on Friday, assuming he has received suitable references of course…'
He held up his hand.
'Very well, Miss Wrenn, you have made your point. Can you supply me with suitable references?'
'I am sure Mr Pettigrew will vouch for my character, and you may apply to Miss Shaftesbury at the Academy in Clapham. As to my education, you can test me, if you so wish.'
'No I do not so wish!' he growled at her. 'Pray sit down again, madam, and tell me these terms of yours.'
Resuming her seat, she gave him a beaming smile.
'They are not really so outrageous. I will engage to look after the children, Major Collingham, and educate them for the next four months, that is, to the end of September. I would like you to pay me a lump sum at the end of that time.'
'How much?'
Julia took a deep breath and named her price.
She winced, but held her ground.
'You said you were willing to pay a king's ransom for this service sir: I think you will agree that it is hardly that, but it would be sufficient for me to rent a little house in say, Harrogate or Bath, and support my family by teaching. That is all I ask, Major.'
There was no more she could say. Juliana forced herself to sit still while the Major stared at her, his fingers drumming on the desk top. The remuneration she was asking was high, but discreet enquiries of her cousin had convinced her that the Major could afford twice that sum. Now she only needed to hold her nerve. She smiled to herself: perhaps she had something of her father's gambling spirit after all. At last he spoke.
'Very well. I will have Brasher draw up an agreement today.'
She found she had been holding her breath, for it now came out in a long sigh.
'Thank you, sir. I will not disappoint you.'
'I trust you will not. I shall make sure you do not get a penny if you do not keep your side of this bargain. One more thing. What do you propose to do with your siblings for the next four months?'
She hesitated.
'I am hoping to persuade my cousin-'
He shook his head.
'Pettigrew is a lawyer and a bachelor. I'd wager he knows less than I do about children. You had best bring them with you. They will be companions for Gwen and Minna on the journey, and there will be plenty of room for them at Blackthorpe.'
'Th-thank you.'
He stood up and came round the desk towards her.
'Then let us shake hands upon it, and I will send for the children.'
Juliana rose and put out her hand. As he took her fingers in his strong grip she looked up into his face and wondered how she had ever managed to bargain with such a man. At close range he was even more intimidating. His eyes were as hard as granite: his countenance bleak and unforgiving. Dangerous. But even as she began wonder if perhaps she had made a mistake, she saw a gleam of amusement in his grey eyes.
He said, 'Now what are you thinking, Miss Wrenn?'
She did not even consider prevaricating.
'That you would make an implacable enemy, sir.'
His grip on her hand tightened.
'True. But I am also a very good friend. Which would you have, Miss Wrenn?'
Juliana could not break away from his gaze. A small voice in her head was warning that he should not be asking her such a question. She swallowed and tried to answer calmly.
'Neither. I look only for a fair employer.'

More Than a Governess by Sarah Mallory
Harlequin Historical -

Melinda Hammond (Sarah Mallory)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Thinking Time

As well as the time spent at the computer actually writing, an author needs thinking time. Time in which to mull over possibilities for the location of a particular scene: where would this work best: a ballroom, a city street, an inn? Or maybe to work out how characters will react during a furious argument, or a declaration of love.
Many authors find water an aid to inspiration. Not necessarily drinking it, but perhaps lying in a bath, or walking by the sea in all it's varying moods. I love to do this. There is something about water that encourages the mind to drift and it’s in that daydreaming state that some of my best and most vivid ideas spring to life.
But what also works well for me is ironing. It allows me to “tune in” to the world of my story and listen to my characters’ conversations. I also “see” them: what they are wearing, the expressions on their faces, their body language as they react to one another. I make sure I have a notebook nearby so I can scribble it all down while it’s still fresh in my mind. The towering pile of neatly pressed clothes and bedlinen is a bonus.

Jane Jackson.

Devil's Prize Robert Hale January 2008